AWARENESS OF THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD IN CHORUSES FROM ‘THE ROCK’ BY T.S. ELIOT Comments by Monsignor Luigi Giussani 1 Choruses from ‘The Rock’ 2by T. S. Eliot can be read according to a sequence of three stages. It starts with the chorus in which the position of the Church is opposed to the position of a world that doesn’t want it any longer (Chorus I). The Christians (Chorus II) must try to resist and live, to walk, to struggle in this world that doesn’t want them any longer. But they are aware of all their limitations, of their defects, of the burdens they carry, that are their own burdens and inherited burdens. Chorus III explores the serious question that they also, the Church itself, the Christians themselves, are invested, are impacted by skepticism, by the skepticism and materialism of the whole world, of the whole society. “Is it the Church that has abandoned humanity, or has humanity abandoned the Church?” The answer is affirmative in both cases. Where lies the emphasis of the poet’s reaction? Eliot says that wherever the Church is rejected and wherever the Church itself is penetrated by the worldly spirit, by the “secular” spirit, humanity comes up short, the human suffers. “Life you may evade, but Death you shall not,” is written in Chorus III. You can avoid the Church and its suggestions in life, and do whatever you want, but you cannot avoid watching everything that you create fall apart in your hands. The world not only doesn’t want the Church, but persecutes it. “And what do you want?” says Eliot. “Do you perhaps want the world to accept the Church? Why should it accept it?” Why should men love the Church? Why should they love her laws? She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget. She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft. She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts. They constantly try to escape From the darkness outside and within By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
Msgr. Luigi Giussani (1922-2005) is the founder of the international Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation. The text is from a reading of the play to a group of university students in 1982. 2
Excerpts of the Choruses from the “Rock” are taken from T. S. Eliot The complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950, by Harcourt Brace & Company
Men who persecute the Church dream of the elimination of freedom because the supreme ideal of this world is to create a world of automatons: “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” The ultimate, deepest accusation by Eliot is: What is the truth of all this hostility and this plan? The rejection of Christ, the rebellion against Christ and thus the elimination of God because as Nietzsche already has said, if we abolish Christ, we abolish God. Here comes Chorus I. […] The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. All our knowledge brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God. Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. [“Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”; Andrei Sinyavsky says, in one of his “Scattered Thoughts,” that man dies with all his information.] I journeyed to London, to the timekept city, where the river flows, with foreign flotations. There I was told: we have too many churches, And too few chop-houses. There I was told: Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church In the place where they work, But where they spend their Sundays. In the city, we need no bells: Let them wake in the suburbs. I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told: We toil for six days, on...